'Speeches and cosmetic changes are not enough'

Disabled rights activist slams govt for bad policies

The political class has not taken disability seriously at all, probably because they think the disabled do not form an important vote bank, said Javed Abidi — a disabled rights activist and director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People on Wednesday.

With December 3 observed as International Day for People with Disabilities, Abidi said little has changed although 20 years have passed since the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 came into force.

The issues remain the same over the years – employment, accessibility to public places and transport and educational opportunities for the disabled. However, have the politicians cared much apart from giving speeches on disability reforms?
What is appalling for people with disabilities is the “cosmetic changes” that are often highlighted as “disabled-friendly” modifications in the city.

“A Braille board outside Safdarjung Tomb or a few other heritage sites, a ramp at a college or university does not really mean that public places are more accessible for the disabled people,” said Abidi, who is himself wheelchair-bound.

“What about the modes of public transport, colleges, hostels or even offices? Are these accessible to the disabled? Name one Kendriya Vidyalaya in the city which is disabled friendly. If this is the case in bigger cities, I shudder to think about the state of the wheelchair-users in the rest of the country,” said Abidi.

The changes achieved till now are not even the “tip of the iceberg”. The apathy of the policymakers and the politicians towards the disabled has been the primary cause behind the cosmetic changes achieved so far. He explained that it would be difficult for any disabled person to dream to be in any Indian educational institution as it might not be disabled-friendly.

Apart from the affluent class who would still be able to manage better with private vehicles, the apathy of the government towards other disabled citizens unable to use the public transport is unacceptable.

“This should be a cross-cutting issue across all Ministries of the government. This is not only an issue of the Social Justice Ministry,” said Abidi.

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